Friday, May 26, 2017

CRUISING ON THE GANGES via SINGAPORE

 

En-route to Kolkata, formally known as Calcutta by the British; we had 3 nights in the Amada Hotel Singapore and met up with our ex-Sydney neighbours Alison and Christopher, who currently live in Penang.   What a good catch-up; full of laughs, good food, one or two (maybe 3) G & T’s at various places including the rooftop bar of Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
Singapore Skybar
 
Singapore from the Skybar

 The sightseeing high spot for me in Singapore was definitely the magnificent Gardens by the Bay.  This is 101 hectares of stunning award winning gardens on reclaimed land with waterfront views.
 


Supertrees - 25-30metres tall theses are  iconic tree like vertical gardens.
 
Lovely touches in the flower dome
 
 
The theme in the flower dome was Japan & Cherry blossoms
 
 
 
Walking in the clouds.
 In the cloud forest full of diverse vegetation from tropical highlands
 
Chris & Alison having fun
 
One of the fabulous brass figures in the flower dome
 
The Marina Sands Hotel from the Cloud forest.
The skybar is on the top

Silk Air flew us to Kolkata where we were met and transferred to our home for the next 8 eight nights; MV Ganges Voyager 1.  What a beautiful vessel with a friendly and very professional English speaking crew.  Our cabin was spacious and beautifully furnished.  All the passengers on the ship remarked on how comfortable the beds were. There was a mixture of nationalities among the 25 passengers on board; Americans, Dutch, Swiss, Irish and Aussies.  The crew (bar one) was Indian as were our informative guides. 
MV Ganges Voyager 1
Our lovely cabin


Our bathroom
 
Our cabin

I know everyone wants to know about the food.  Was it hot?  No absolutely not!  Meals on board were delicious and the service impeccable. The menus were thoughtfully planned and included mildly spiced Indian dishes along with western dishes to suit every palate.  I’m a foodie and I do relish spicy (not hot) Indian cuisine. The Indian soups were absolutely yummy.

The day before we were due to arrive in Kolkata, we received notification from the Heritage River Journeys that the water levels in the Hooghly /Bhagirathi channels of the Ganges River had dropped substantially due to the water sharing with Bangladesh, and we would not be sailing beyond Mayapur.  An interesting alternate itinerary was outlined. As it turned out I think it may have been to our advantage as we visited many small villages where tourists rarely set foot. 

The villagers, especially the children, were excited by our visits. It was a special and wonderful privilege to be so warmly welcomed into their community where they were happy for us to mix and see their way of daily life and industry. Our guide said that the locals think we are ‘aliens’.  We took photos of them while they took photos of us!!
 
The village kids loved having their photo taken
  It was interesting to see that although there have virtually no modern conveniences as we know them, many had mobile phones and I saw some TV’s in homes.   What a contented race the Indians appear to be; dressed in magnificent vibrant colours, they have a great sense of humour, always smiling, helpful, relaxed and just plain happy with their lot; which to us does not seem much.   We (particularly our present generation) could learn a lot from them!



 

Life on board started for early energetic risers at 6.30am for Sunrise Yoga on the Sundeck. Umm; always meant to make it, but never did!  A cuppa & pastry in the Governor’s Lounge won over exercise I’m a little embarrassed to admit.   Following a breakfast buffet, the Ship Manager had on- shore excursions organised before returning for lunch on board. The afternoons offered a choice to totally relax, read, log onto WIFI, nap or participate in different events; cooking class, movie, or sometimes another off-shore excursion before the 5.30pm social hour and evening briefing in the Governor’s Lounge. 
 
Early morning yoga on the sundeck
 
Time to totally relax
 
Cooking class


Pre-dinner cocktails in the cabin


Dining room
 
Relaxing in the Govenor's lounge
 
 On a couple of nights we were entertained with various cultural dances and once, a budding magician.  Plenty or nothing to do; your choice; the result is a self paced holiday escape while being thoroughly pampered.
 
Cultural dancer
Historic Kolkata is the commercial capital of East India.  There are 4.5 million residents within the city limits and 15.7 million in the metropolitan area. It is the 13th most populous urban area in the world.  During our Kolkata excursions we visited what is known as ‘Mother House’. This in the Missionaries of Charity holy place founded by Mother Teresa in 1950 and where she died in 1997. There is a permanent exhibition of her life in a small interesting museum as well as her simple tomb. It is still an active charity and we visited the Mother Teresa’s orphanage ShishBhavan or Children’s Home nearby

Entrance to the Mother House


Mother Teresa's Tomb
The flowers were arranged to read; Jesus is my only love.

 

We spent time visiting The Victoria Memorial dedicated to the memory of Britain’s Queen Victoria which was built 1906-1921 and is now a museum surrounded by tranquil gardens. Popular with the people of India and tourists alike, it is a striking and stately marble building near the bank of the Hooghly River.
 
Victoria Memorial

Another interesting and historic visit was to the large square neoclassical style St John’s Church with its tall stone spire. It is the third oldest church in Kolkata and was erected by the East India Company after Kolkata became the capital of British India.  Construction began in 1784 with Rs raised by a public lottery and completed in 1787.  The church, once a Cathedral and very historic, is very run-down today.
 
 
St Johns Church
 
There is an interesting monument to a very controversial part of Indian history in the church compound; a memorial to the Black Hole of Calcutta.  I confess my ignorance; before I visited this site, I didn’t know what the saying ‘The Black Hole of Calcutta’ actually related to. Our guide told the history of the atrocity during the siege of Calcutta where it is claimed 146 British and Anglo-Indian soldiers along with Indian civilians were held as prisoners and confined to one room measuring 14 X 8 feet and locked up overnight on 20 June1756.  Only 23 survived. The rest died of either heat stroke and/or suffocation. 
 
Memorial to those who died in the Black Hole of Calcutta
AROUND KOLKATA
 



 
On our cruise north we passed lovely landscapes dotted with waving locals and we enjoyed many interesting excursions. We saw magnificent colourful silk being woven and shopped in local markets.  We visited areas where remnants of various European settlers had established East Indian Companies from as far back as the 17th to the 19th century.


 






 We road in rickshaws through towns and village centres, we visited important and historic landmarks and buildings, churches, the amazing Terracotta temples of Kalna, the Mosque and tomb of Zafar Khan Gazi, Serampore College and the oldest university in India.  Even enjoyed the final of two local cricket teams along the river bank.  John was invited to commentate, the locals were very excited. 
Cricket final - dogs, excited kids running free on the field and the game goes on.
 
John commentating on the game.
  







 


 

 

An excursion to the pilgrim town of Mayapur where the Ganges and the Jalangi rivers join was fascinating. The headquarters for Krishna Consciousness Movement (ISKCON) is here and is massive.  There were masses of Pilgrims and tourists, removing footwear and going through checks akin to strict Airport security to enter the temple to see the amazing ornate and colorfully decorated statues of Krishna. Unfortunately photography was not allowed inside; no phones, electronic items or bags either.  A gigantic new temple is under construction in the complex. With a 700,000 square foot temple, 340 feet high, with a 75 foot domed planetarium; it will be the tallest Hindu temple in the world and will rival the size of the Vatican.   It was to be completed in 2016, their jubilee year, but just like most builds in Australia; it is behind schedule!



 

We cruised back to Kolkata in the same perfect weather we had enjoyed throughout our time in India; warm sunshine minus humidity. Following are some images of everyday life along the mighty Ganges.





 







 
 
India has a significant and fascinating history and I feel lucky to have been exposed to a little of it along the most populated river basin in the world. The mighty Ganges River is a lifeline to over a million Indians and a most sacred place in Hinduism. Thank you to the wonderful Ganges Voyager crew for taking me there.
 
 



 

 

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